Guardian Ad Litem In Family Law Cases
In contentious family law disputes, children are the most vulnerable and sometimes a parent can lose track on what is in the best interest of the child. The question then becomes, who is protecting the best interest of the children in the judicial system?
Judges, especially in Broward County, Florida have limited time for each case and often rely on third parties to investigate and prepare recommendations on what is in a child’s best interest. These third parties are called guardian ad litems.
In dissolution of marriage and paternity cases involving child issues, such as time-sharing and parental responsibility matters, a judge may appoint a guardian ad litem pursuant to the request of either parent, a third party, or upon the court’s own motion. A finding that it is in the best interest of the child to have a guardian ad litem appointed must be made before the guardian ad litem can accept the appointment.
Once the guardian ad litem is appointed, the guardian ad litem investigates and evaluates what is in the child’s best interest. The guardian’s sole duty will be to inform the court of the guardian’s findings and make recommendations to what the guardian believes is in the child’s best interest. Guardian ad Litems are provided a wide range of power and authority to conduct this investigation; most often, certain rules of evidence will be waived to for the guardian to fully complete their duties. Florida Statute §61.401 governs the appointment of guardians and spells out the powers that are given to them.
The role of the guardian ad litem is to act as a next friend of the court and performs the following duties:
- Conducts an independent investigation of the facts relevant to the child’s welfare;
- Assists the court in obtaining independent expert evaluations and recommendations, when appropriate;
- Presents facts to the court pertinent to the investigation and the best interest of the child; and
- Files a report with recommendations concerning the child’s best interest regarding custody and visitation arrangements, parental responsibility, educational, medical, and financial needs and other concerns involving the welfare of the child.
The Role of a Guardian ad Litem
Once Anna-Maria Capizzi of Seff and Capizzi Law Group is appointed as a guardian ad litem, we carefully investigate the allegations affecting the child; conduct home visits; interview the parents and child; interview other relevant individuals who may include school teachers, relatives, neighbors, friends, health professionals, religious leaders, local community leaders and or police officers involved with the child.
Further, as family lawyers, Seff and Capizzi Law Group review court pleadings, medical records, police reports, school records, psychological/psychiatric reports, and/or child protective team investigations to gain a full understanding of the child’s life.
All of this information is presented to the court in a written report, which includes a statement from the child, a summary of the investigation, an analysis and recommendations on what will be in the best interest of the child. Judges in family law cases usually place a lot of weight on the reports and recommendation of the Guardian ad Litem. The Judge will select the person to serve as the Guardian ad Litem, and the attorneys in the case can propose persons to serve. The person ultimately selected, should be someone who can provide well considered and valuable feedback to the Judge.
A guardian ad litem is another witness to the action, and as with any witnesses, both parties will have the ability and the right to cross-examine the guardian ad litem in order to ensure the findings and recommendations are in the best interest of the child. The guardian ad litem will act independent of either of the parties and their attorneys. Parents are ordered and expected to fully cooperate with the guardian’s investigation and a party’s failure to fully cooperate will often reflect negatively in the guardian’s report.
Guardian ad Litems can be a valuable tool in providing the Court the ability to make fully educated and fair decisions based on the voice of the children while insulating them from the stress and involvement of a paternity proceeding. Each guardian brings a different background and different specialties, so choosing the right guardian for each case can be as critical as getting a guardian appointed.
Why Choose Seff & Capizzi Law Group?
Seff & Capizzi Law Group offers a free initial consultation to review the circumstances of your case and give you the personal attention that you deserve. If you are seeking to have Anna-Maria Capizzi appointed as a guardian ad litem, call our office so that we can discuss how to get us appointed to your case. We look forward to hearing from you.